Monday, September 17, 2007

One Size Does Not Fit All

It happened again.

Another mother reported to me that her 8th grade son "absolutely hates school." He stayed home today and is falling further behind. What's the issue this time? The short answer is he has to create a brochure about himself for a class assignment.

Sounds creative. Uses technology, and we certainly want to see that! Teacher probably wants to better understand their students...

Yes, but for this student, it is a nightmare assignment because it is a one size fits all approach for the students in the classroom and he doesn't know where to begin.

How many times have we discussed differentiation or universal design for learning? I'm not sure what the learning outcome is for this assignment, but what are some other ways that the end product could be accomplished?

Here are some ideas that offer choices, that can tap into the student's strengths instead of reinforce his learning challenges:

1. Create a brochure using software of your choice. (OK, we can keep this one, maybe there are some students who love to create brochures using Publisher, or Word or something similar.)

2. Digital storytelling - tell the story of your life using any tool that works best for you - Voice Thread, iPhoto, iMovie, Slideshare, PhotoStory 3, PowerPoint, etc. Combine audio, visual, and text in ways that enhance the audience's understanding of your story.

3. Create a podcast - Interview family members about how your life impacts them, how your parents' lives changed; record your own story. (possibilities are endless.)

4. As a class, think of some alternative ways to share life stories. (Some students may prefer to create a poster, others may want to create a cereal box, some may come up with totally different ideas.)

Whatever you do, offer MULTIPLE MEANS OF EXPRESSION!! One size doesn't fit all. And that is certainly true in our classrooms.

Thoughts? Other suggestions?

9 comments:

Artichoke said...

Differentiating content, process, product and learning environment can seem overwheleming for the classroom teacher - and I agree with your analysis here - a good place to start is by looking at all the ways we could differentiate product - all the ways students could show their understanding (performance for understanding) of their new learning -

Using ICTs broadens the opportunities to introduce different product -

We encourage teachers to look at product lists like the one below and create some options for their students - start small - say 4 different options then as students develop more skills broaden and deepen until they have free choice - teachers do need to provide criteria templates exemplars of the skills required to create the product skillfully - and to teach these. But the bonus is that over a school year students learn many different ways of showing they have learned something new

The following list gives a good idea of the diversity allowed by this approach - and if you link these to instruction in "how to" the whole process becomes achievable for classroom teachers

Advertisement
Animation
Argument
Audiotape
Abstract
Acronym
Annotated Bibliography
Autobiography
Art Gallery
Assignment
Banner
Biography
Book Review
Brochure
Budget
Board Game
Bulletin Board
Business Plan
Blog
Cartoon
Catalogue
Chart
Ceramics
Comedy Skit
Commentary
Commercial
Computer Document
Computer Programme
Conference
Construction
Cookbook
Costume
Concoction
Critique
Cross Section
Census
Chamber Music
Competition
Compact Disc
Character Sketch
Dance
Debate
Demonstration
Data Base
Dialogue
Documentary
Design
Diagram
Diary
Diorama
Display
Drama
Drawing
Dramatic Monologue
Editorial
Essay
Etching
Experiment
Evaluation
Exhibit
Family Tree
Film
Fairy Tale
Graph
Graphic Organiser
Greeting Card
Gaming(Computer)
Guest Speaker
Guide
Haiku
Hyper-links
How To Book
Hypermedia
Histogram
Hypothesis
Illustrated Story
Illustration
Internet search-(Research)
Interview
Invention
Investigation
Itinerary
Inspiration Map
Jingle
Journal
E-Journal
Jewellery
Kete
Letter
Log
Lesson
Literary Analysis
Learning Centre
Logo
Machine Magazine
Manuscript
Mask
Matrix
Mapping
Montage
Musical Performance
Mural
Museum Visit/Report
Motto
Mulitmedia
Musical Composition
Mystery
Narrative
Newsletter
Needlecraft
Newsletter
Newspaper
Novel
Overhead Projector Transparency
Oral Report
Oral History
Painting
Pamphlet
Panel Discussion
Paper Mache
Performance
Personal Experience
Petition
Photo Essay
Pictograph
Pictorial Essay
Pie Chart
Power Point Presentation
Poster
Poem
Political Cartoon
PortFolio
Portrait
Position Paper
Project Cube
Prototype
Puppet/Show
Questionnaire
Question Quest
Quotations
Radio Show
Rap
Reasonable Templates
Recipe
Role Play
Rubric
Report Writing
Scavenger Hunt
Scenario
Scrapbook
Storytelling
Spreadsheets
Script
Sculpture
Science Fiction
Song Composition
Speech Making
Seminar
Short Story
Shadowboxes
Simulation
Story Board
Survey
Tables
Tape Recordings
Television Shows
Tessellations
Three-D Model
Time Capsule
Timeline
Trademark
Travel Itinerary/Brochure
Triptych
Venn Diagram
PMI
Video Game
Virtual Field
Trip
Wall Hanging
Webpage
Webquest

Brian S. Friedlander, Ph.D said...

Wow I was going to make some suggestions but someone has really touched all bases! Thanks for your post it does make you think and reflect on what is happening in our classroom. Brian

Karen Janowski said...

Artichoke,
What an incredible, extensive list you have written. Why is it that so often teachers provide only one option to help their students demonstrate what they know?
You have listed dozens of alternatives and there may even be more.
When we limit our students creativity, we sacrifice the opportunity to increase their understanding and knowledge.
Instead, let's take advantage of every opportunity to help support our students as learners.
Thanks for leaving the list of possibilities!
Brian,
I'm sure you, too, could add to the discussion as you are constantly exploring new tools. Any ideas?

Magi Shepley said...

This is the first year that I have made a concerted effort to give my students more choice in how they show me what they've learned. I always thought I was giving them options in the past, especially since I sat through more presentations and in-service trainings on differentiation than I can count. It wasn't until I took a graduate class last year that I was able to actually create a plan and set some goals to do more differentiation. The first step last year, was to have my students make scrapbooks. They were allows to use any kind of paper, supporting graphics, fonts, words, letters, stuff... as long as it met the criteria. The criteria was established with a rubric, and very open-ended. The part for "design" said that they earned more points if their "extra stuff" matched their main picture, and if they used technology to help independently. That led to purchasing digital cameras... and then to a book called 'Building Life Skills Portfolios', which is a book of checklists of various functional skills. The checklists are very open, and have things like, "Gather 6 words about cooking, and put them in your portfolio". I used their template, and so now for each unit, my students receive a checklist, a rubric, and a sample. I act more as a facilitator, or helper, which is nice. It isn't easy, though, even with my small class...
I've posted some of my thoughts on this and a few links to materials I made on my blog.

Amanda205 said...

I think that is it important to give our students options. Though I am not a teacher and have not studied education, I can say this based on personal experience. I did not have options when I was in middle and high school. We had computers, but were limited to the use of Word, Excel and Powerpoint. I think that it is great to use other forms of technology to express what you have learned and if not using technology, using what form of expression you are most comfortable with. From what little I know about education, there are many learning styles out there. Teachers need to make sure that they are implementing some form of each learning style into each and every one of their assignments. Guidelines obviously need to be set, but there also needs to be options.

Karen Janowski said...

Magi and Amanda,
Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving your comments. Magi, what do you think prevented you from differentiating your instruction prior to taking the graduate course especially since you say you took tons of professional development?
Amanda, I really appreciate your perspective as a recent student. There are so many different ways to demonstrate knowledge acquisition. I love to see when all the possibilities are prevented. And the list that Artichoke posted above is a valuable resource if teachers run out of other ideas.

K Haugen said...

Karen,

You might as well be talking about my son - and his recent assignment, and the meltdown(s) in our home, and subsequent failure to complete the work, and one more ding to his deteriorating self image as a bright, capable learner. I'm not always clear what specific formats would work for him (poster or podcast or a straightforward essay), but as a kid with Asperger-like issues, including being rigidly literal, what he seems to need most is both clarity and flexibility in his assignments. (He also thought the whole idea of a brochure about himself was 'bragging,' and felt the teacher was asking him to do something that is wrong!)

What my son usually needs for clarity is very explicit instructions, and an authorized strategy (e.g. ok'd by the teacher) for breaking larger assignments into doable chunks (with interim checks to make sure he's on track), and often a realistic model of what an acceptable response might look like -- not a teacher-made model or an exemplary product, but simply a 'good enough' one!

What he needs for flexibility is explicit permission to use alternate means (e.g. "Use your own drawings, clip art, photos or collage..." - again, authorized by someone besides MOM! The key for him is that the flexibility offered is truly 'universally designed' in the sense that it's an intrinsic part of the assignment, not something he sees as tacked on for him alone as an adaptation because he's 'dumb.'

PS - I'd rather see a kid 'hate school' (for now) than hate himself. It's amazing how one quirky or understanding or flexible or thoughtful teacher can undo the 'hate school' thing. It's much harder to undo blows to one's self image from failing at one unclear or inflexible assignment after another! I know we've unwittingly reinforced this for my son by countering his claims that he has a 'bad teacher' or an 'idiotic school.' When people tell him, 'No, son, this is a really good school where people really care about you...' his only interpretation left is that the problem lies wholly within himself. And that's a very lonely place to be.

Darren Draper said...

Karen,

This post (and many others you've written) are absolute gems! So few teachers consider the impact that their assignments will have on their students. Furthermore, even fewer actually provide a differentiated approach.

Thank you for your hard work in helping teachers to see the light!

Karen Janowski said...

Darren,
Thank you for your kind words - I have learned so much from you and am grateful I can offer you a different way to view instruction using tech tools for differentiation.